Revamping our mission statement
I helped (credits at the end) write the new mission statement for the Department of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Minnesota, and I’m proud of it. The first thing I had to learn / figure out was: what was the purpose of this statement? Obviously, we wanted to communicate what our department was about. But what does “about” mean?
First, we had to take a position on what computing is. Fundamentally, we said, it is everywhere, affecting all facets of individual lives and society.
Next, we had to actually state the department’s mission in one sentence(!). It’s worth reproducing what we came up with:
There are three crucial ideas here, and I really like how we connected them: We do innovative research, we prepare students to take on important roles in society, and by doing these things we deliver benefits to the broader community.
We also had to get more specific. We wrote about research, education, and community, covering three main things: (1) What we’re good at. (2) What we value. (3) What we aspire to.
Of course, these things can blend together: We value interdisciplinary work, and we are good at it. We value education, and we are good at it. We value inclusiveness and collegiality, and we continually aspire to do (even) better at it.
Finally, there were challenges in writing the statement, perhaps most obviously that it had to be brief, and thus could not cover everything we do. We had to make choices about what areas we mentioned, what values we emphasized, etc. Looking back, I tried to be guided by Wikipedia’s due weight guidelines (and I wasn’t the only one drafting the statement, and many department faculty provided feedback), but of course, different people inevitably weigh things differently.
I hope you read the statement if you haven’t already. And it would be great to hear from you if you have any comments! As always, you can reach me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @lorenterveen.
Credits: Marissa Pederson, our department’s communication manager, ‘reminded’ us that our mission statement was ancient and obsolete. She also educated us about what a mission statement should contain, prepared the initial draft, and managed the editing and revision process. Professor and Department Head Mats Heimdahl, department Chief of Staff Heather Eastlund, and I discussed and revised drafts with Marissa over a period of a month or so. We then solicited feedback from all department faculty and staff, and made additional revisions based on this. Finally, the mission statement was adopted by a vote of department faculty.